Unrelenting Sadness

For as long as I can remember, I have always felt sadness. This feeling of sadness is like a fog that transcends and envelops me, like a thin veil, always there, always looming, waiting to swallow me whole. Growing up, I was a tenacious kid, curious, playful, always longing for my mother’s attention and love, but never quite getting enough of it. Play with my neighbourhood friends and books, were my way of escaping the sexual abuse that was disguised as play time by my brother, and the emotional and physical abuse that I endured from my mother, every time I pushed the limits of my curfew, so that I could stay out playing with my friends, just a little bit longer. Despite knowing that I would be punished for staying out too late and breaking my curfew, I continued to stay out late because the joy and freedom I felt, for being a child, savouring each play time as though it would be my last. It was bliss before the storm – the pain endured after was worth this playful freedom.

In my teens, play time naturally ceased as my mother’s academic expectations of me skyrocketed. There was no time for play. My mother was relentless in keeping me on a strict study schedule around the house chores that was expected of me. Also, sexuality was confusing for me as a teen. Sex was to me, a form of brotherly sisterly love, and this was all I knew. I felt his love being stripped away when my brother suddenly stopped ‘playing’ with me. As my girl friends in school talked about boys with such fervour, I on the other hand, did not shared those proclivities, and because of this, I was quite the outlier that way. Books then were still my best escape from this sadness that I don’t quite understand and when I read, I felt free to explore the worlds that are so eloquently described. I devoured any book that I can get my hands on, be it in the school or public libraries or books that I rented out with food money that I saved. I hardly bought books fresh from the shelves as I never had enough money to do so. Nourishing my mind and soul with words were more important than feeding hunger. Sadness became more pronounced as I tried to numb myself from the gnawing loneliness that I felt and frequent masturbation became a substitute for the lost of brotherly ‘love’, to fill the void inside me.

When I turned 17, I flung myself into my first romantic relationship with a boy that showed me interest because I wanted to drown away the sexual attraction I had for my best friend in school, who is a girl. I wanted to cure my ‘homosexual tendencies’, per say and this boy was my get away ticket. I clung to his love like my dear life depended on it. The relationship lasted 7 years and finally, he could no longer love me, as I have put all my hopes and desires to be loved onto him and did not notice that I was suffocating him with my neediness and my need to squeeze every drop of love from him to substitute the lack of love that I never got from my parents. When our relationship ended, a part of me died with it as I was convinced that I was and never will be loveable and the sadness became all consuming.

In my twenties, I cling to any affection that I can get from anyone that showed me any flicker of romantic interest. I was open to dating any guy that wanted to date me and I would be sexual with them, if that is what it takes to feel wanted and loved. Ironically, it only left me empty and when it is all over, feeling of shame and guilt would wash over me. Paradoxically, I continued to plunge myself into these relationships, knowing fully that it would only end up hurting me even more. It was like an itch that needed scratching.

Being in my early forties now, I am just in the beginning of my journey to lick the wounds of the past. I am only just beginning to put the pieces together and make sense of my life that has passed me in a blur. It is hard not to grief the lost of time and what could have been. This sadness that resides deep inside me will always be my most loyal companion. This sadness pops it ugly head with each day that I take, totally out of my control. Because of this, I let myself ride its wave. Somehow, there is a morbid sense of relief that I know, the option of suicide is possible, it is something within my control, that I can bear to continue living in this sadness, just knowing that I have that option.

A picture from my journal

I have been unable to write lately… Everything seems to trigger me and bring me back to my childhood abuse. I’ve finally managed to pen something in my journal today, so I thought I just take a photo of that page and share it here because I just can’t type it out.

Here We Go Again… An Endless Cycle

For the past month, I have slowly found my mental health deteriorating. I could feel that slow, dread and despair, just lurking around the corner. From my work as a mental health nurse, I know the theory and concepts behind ‘unhooking‘, a term used in ACT (Acceptance Commitment Therapy), where you ‘unhook’ from difficult thoughts and feelings by acknowledging that they are there, but instead of focusing on them, you let them buzz in the background. The idea is to focus on the present moment, and not be dominated by these difficult thoughts and feelings, in order to live the life we want. It does work, when it works. As with many other coping strategies, unhooking is another skill that requires us to repeatedly practice and use and make it so automatic, that our brain automatically uses it as a positive coping mechanism when our thoughts and feelings becomes unhelpful. It’s great when it works, but for me, at this point, it’s a hit and miss at most times. So, what I am trying to say is that I am not quite there yet!

The irony of it all is that I teach my clients these skills. From various grounding strategies, such as physical grounding, object grounding, safe space visualisation and unhooking, to name a few. I understand the concepts behind them and the reasons why they work for some and not others, but, I find it difficult to use and practice them for myself.

My psychologist has given me a task to practice ‘unhooking’ on a daily basis. I have been trying, but, it hasn’t really worked out the way I thought it would. I am quite frustrated with myself. Maybe it’s the stress of work and the stress of an assignment that I am currently racking my brains to try and complete…Maybe my concentration is so bad that I can’t focus on any of the tasks I have in hand at the moment… Maybe it’s just the simple fact that I am slipping into a depressive episode again. The thing is, I have not even surfaced to the light from the episode 8 months ago. It’s just an endless cycle of ‘I’m ok’ and ‘I’m not ok’ and this is just so f***king exhausting!

Festive Seasons – Chinese New Year

I’ve missed work again today.

I had a breakdown this morning, sobbing at the breakfast table.

Feeling utterly overwhelmed

Wounds of the past, festering

Being brought back to the past

Preparing for Chinese New Year dishes for offerings and reunion meals

I hear my mother’s taunts of my incompetence as I tried my best to do her bidding in the kitchen.

“Not like that, you’re not slicing garlic right!”

“Make sure you don’t burn the garlic!”

“Turn the fire down!”

“Hurry up!”

How I’ve buried all these hurt

It’s festering now, pulling me down

Old wounds bleeding fresh again

Paralysing me, more tears

I missed work again

I feel defeated, a failure

My mother was right, “You never do things right!”

Filial Piety – Part 2: The Analog Clock

I have just realised that I should have mentioned that my posts can be triggering for some of you. It just never crossed my mind until recently. So, I will start of each blog if the content would have descriptions that could be disturbing to some. This is one of them.

As I have promised, this is part 2 of Filial Piety – to what end? that I wrote last week and had to stop because I could not continue writing at that point because it dredged up too many emotions within me that I could not contain if I continued to write it. I am now very aware to confront my troubled parts in piece-meal sizes so that I am able to be in control of how much I am able to process at one point and not risk re-traumatising myself with those buried memories.

From the age of 4, my mother would sit me down on the carpet in the living room and tried to teach me how to read an analog clock. I remember feeling overwhelmed and I just could not grasp the concept behind what each number on the clock meant. I got confused about the function and meaning of what the shorter hand was as compared to the longer hand. The numbers on the face of the clock always looked jumbled in my head each time I looked at it. I tried really hard to pay attention and make sense of the repetitions made by my mother, where she hoped that by repeating what those numbers meant would magically be imprinted into my mind. To my mother’s dismay, my tiny mind could not make sense of any of it, and she would berate me, “You’ll never learn this. Why are you so stupid!” Stupid – Somehow, I learnt the meaning of this word straightaway. It was then that I started to believe that stupid, was what I am.

Filial Piety: To What End?

According to Confucius, filial piety is the virtue of respect for one’s parents and elders. This virtue is also embedded in Buddhist and Taoist teachings. All cultures have some form of this expectation in varying degrees, but, it is more pronounced in cultures that are more collectivist in nature.

I remember fearing my mother’s rage for as long as I can remember. My earliest memories were when I was 2 or 3, my mother would sit me on the potty and leave me there for as long as she needed to complete her tasks in the kitchen. As she busied herself in the kitchen, I would play with a locket that my grandmother gave me. It was a black stone shaped into an eggplant, attached to a gold ring, where the chain would lace through it. I remember that I would suck on it as I sat on the potty and wait for my mother to be free to wash me. I would not make a sound as I quickly learnt that if I did, my mother would yell at me to be quiet. So, I would sit, suck on the black stone locket and wait patiently while watching my mother in the kitchen, waiting for her to glance over, but she never did. By the time she picks me up from the potty, my bum was already quite numb from sitting on the potty for so long. She would wash and dress me and leave me beside a small transistor radio. I loved that thing. It was my priced possession. The first one that I got was a red one and when that broke, my father bought an exact same one but in black. It had a retractable antenna and a dial at the top beside the on-off switch that you turn to set the frequency. I remember just sitting quietly beside the radio and listen to music as my mother went along with her house chores everyday. Music was my friend, my solace.

I do remember happier times when I was a toddler, even after the sexual abuse started. The fondest ones are the ones where I would sing and dance along whenever my favourite songs get played on the radio. Being able to do Michael Jackson’s Moonwalk was my favourite move and I relished the attention I got from the laughters of my father and sisters. In those happy snippets, I remember that there were no hearty laughters from my mother, only a smile carved on her face each time, while my brother was always absent.

I think I would need to continue this post for another time. I think I need to pause and contain my distressing emotions while I write this part of my life. I’ve decided to still publish this unfinished work because I feel that I need to get this out there. There will be a part 2 of this post at some point when I am ready to reopen my containment ‘vault’ and process through this part of my life in writing.

Sins of the Father

I guess you could consider this post as a sequel to my earlier post titled Sins of the Mother . I told my mother about the abuse at the hands of my brother when I was 16, but I waited to tell my father about it until more than a decade later. I was 32 when I told him. I’m still not sure why I waited so many years before till I decided to tell my father about the abuse. Maybe, I was afraid that I would receive the same respond as my mother had given me. Maybe, I was too ashamed to tell him. Maybe, I was still in denial that the abuse ever happened. I still have not figured this out yet.

My father came for a visit in 2011. I was still living in Malaysia at that time, running a small English language centre at the state of Johor, situated in the south of Peninsular Malaysia, by the border to Singapore. We had dinner at one of my father’s favourite Chinese restaurant nearby, when he decided that he wanted to spend some time at the language centre, before heading back to my apartment.

I can’t exactly recall what we talked about before I decided at the spur of the moment to tell him about what my brother did to me as we were growing up. I tried to gauge his facial reaction as the words started stumbling out of my mouth, but I saw nothing. To be fair, I don’t even know what I was expecting to see. Deep down, I knew what was going to happen. I just knew that he would utter the same words my mother did when I was 16. And I was right. With a straight face, not looking at me, but staring straight ahead as he said, “Don’t tell anyone.”

Flashes of better memories of time I spent with my father came flooding back. Where was the father that used to bring me to the cinema for movies? Where was the father that would carry me and place me on his lap as he moved his knees up and down to mimic a horse ride? Where was the father that used to carry me to the bedroom whenever I pretended to have fallen sleep on the sofa? At that moment, I was hoping for him to say: “I’m so sorry that happened to you. I wish I knew”. Or maybe a sign of anger or disappointment towards his only son. There was none of this. Writing this blog entry makes my heart ache and his words “don’t tell anyone”, echoes over and over again in my head.

The Face Behind This Blog

I have just changed my profile picture from my cat’s photo (her name is Lexi, if you’re curious) to my personal photo. I have been mulling about whether I should be open about who I am or continue to hide behind the comforts of anonymity that the Internet can offer. I have only just started this blog about 2 months ago and some of you might be wondering why would I want to come out of anonymity? It is not an easy decision to for me to make. There is a lot anxiety surrounding putting myself out there on the World Wide Web, because nothing gets erased on the Internet. Things stay on the Internet indefinitely (unless, one day, we enter a apocalyptic era where the world no longer exist!). Another reason to not put myself out there was also a worry I have about my profession as a mental health nurse. Would someone at work come across my blog? Would my boss come across my blog? Would it affect my career in the future? So, if there are so many negative repercussions of coming out of anonymity, why do it?

To me, it feels right this time around. I just turned 41 last November and I am tired of hiding this little part of who I am. I am not just what depression, anxiety and past trauma make of me. I am much more than these challenges put together. Aren’t we all complex being?

Being Asian of Chinese descent, mental health issues are just not talked about. This taboo does not just belong to my ethnic and cultural background, but it is present in every other culture. Another voice that talks openly about mental health struggles, is another space to normalise it. It is not something to feel ashamed of and it should not be discriminated upon. There has been a lot of shifts of attitudes in Western cultures, where levels of stigmatisation might feel less in the forefront, but, in reality, the stigma and shame is still very much the reality for people like us, who struggle to stay mentally healthy. Strangely, and quite saddening is that, a lot of those who work in the health care system are the agents for perpetuating this stigma. This creates a problem because many who work as mental health professionals are the ones that do not seek help, or like me, who waited until things unravelled out of control to seek help. I am not saying that ALL those who work in healthcare stigmatise people with mental health struggles, but in my experience, it festers underneath the surface.

So, to my followers and readers, thank you for giving my blog a go and for the virtual support via likes and comments these past couple of weeks. I know that my writings have been quite dark and negative since I started, but, I believe, my musings will be lighter and more positive as I continue to process the past trauma and come through the other side via a long recovery journey. Hopefully, you’ll stick around for the ride.

A Little Bit of Fresh Air

I got out of the house today after weeks of being at home. I have been isolating and I am aware of this. I am aware that this is not good for my recovery, but at this moment, I don’t have the energy to struggle with this. I still go out for runs and I walk my dog, almost daily this week.

The main reason I got out was because I had a therapy session this morning. I stopped therapy with this therapist for 2 months now and today is the first session after that break.

The session today was difficult. It is always difficult for me because I find it very hard for me to talk about the abuse. Since this depressive episode, this struggle of finding words to talk about it has become worse. My therapist said that I stop breathing each time I said anything that relates to my past trauma. I did not even realise I was doing this and I do appreciate him pointing it out to me. Since then, throughout the session, I became aware that I did stop breathing each time I brought up past traumas.

I came away from therapy today feeling lighter. I always do, before things start to fog up and I feel weighed down again. What I took away from today’s therapy was that I need to take the time to work through everything that I bring up in therapy and not rush into jumping from one thing to the next. I tend to do this because I can’t sit with the discomfort, pain and tears whenever I am triggered by past trauma that I talk about.

In regard to the title of this post, I took a walk at the gardens after therapy. I did not stay long, but I am glad I went because I almost just drove home. I brought my camera along, took some photos and listened to the bird song… which always brings a sense of calmness. I wanted to attach a few photos, but wordpress doesn’t seem to allow that. There is no post processing, the photo is as it was taken. Maybe, by looking at the photo, it would encourage anyone that finds it difficult to leave the safety of home, to finally venture out and enjoy some fresh air.

Acceptance and Grieving

I struggle with the idea of acceptance. I do understand that acceptance is necessary for healing from a traumatic past. My rational brain understands the reasoning behind this, but, it is never that easy with matters of the heart.

How does one accept and be at peace with past abuse and trauma? I ask this question often and have not arrived to an answer. My mind gets triggered to the past abuse and it takes me awhile before I can push the memories out of my mind.

The meaning of acceptance in human psychology is the ability for someone to acquiesce to the reality of the situation they are in without attempting to change or challenge it. Sounds absolutely rational and the right thing to do, but, how does one achieve this tranquility, especially if the person is needing to accept the abuse that they have had to endure?

Prema Chödrön, in her book “When Things Fall Apart”, wrote that to be able to be free of suffering, one has to ‘abandon hope’ and be in a ‘state of hopelessness’. She writes that if we hold on to hope, hope robs us of our present moment. We cling onto what might happen in the future in the hope that things would get better, but in reality, we have no control over what might happen in the future.

Since reading Prema Chödrön writings, I have formed a different perspectives on my feelings of hopelessness. I have been clinging to the notion that I can not see what my future is going to be. I have always liked to plan for my future, with the hope that it would be better and I would be able to actually, finally, live. My mind is always repeating things like, “If I do this, I will be able to gain that”. But, recently, I am beginning to doubt that this is even remotely possible. I have always used this way of looking at things and planning for the future, but what have I really achieved, apart from running away from the reality that I am suppose to face and accept? Would I ever be able to focus on my present moment and not be dwelling in the past and planning for the future? At this point, I am unable to do this.